Economic and Community Development


Immediate economic development…

“When the River Valley Food Co-op opened in Northampton, Massachusetts, at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, one dairy farmer told the store that they likely would have lost their farm had the co-op not opened and featured their brand. The loss of the dairy would have put one more notch in the belt of “big food” and siphoned one more pool of community wealth and social capital off to a distant head office and distant shareholders. In their first year, River Valley’s purchases of local product exceeded $1 million. Ten years later, local purchases had tripled." [excerpt: Chapter 9]

Particularly in smaller cities, towns and rural communities, food offers one of the most sustainable, long-term economic development strategies.

When imagining economic development locally and regionally, it’s important to exercise caution when the stores that foodmakers are selling to are controlled by distant shareholders or private interests. Both chains and privately-held businesses are susceptible to sudden changes in ownership and therefore a potential loss of a market for foodmakers. The new grocery store owners may not be as accommodating or fair to local producers. Cooperatively-owned retailers on the other hand are not susceptible to changes in ownership without the approval of their member-owner-consumers. As food co-ops are also more committed to sustaining and growing their local buyer-supplier relationships, food co-ops offer up a more secure long-term economic development strategy for local economies.

Community Development

Another benefit of food co-ops as a local economic development strategy, is the retention and nurturing of local community leadership and the recirculating of food dollars into community organizations. Chapters 9 and 12 draw attention to these areas of civic engagement stemming from strong local food economies.

"One study found that “local owners and managers are more invested in the community personally and financially than ‘distant’ owners and managers,”…

…“Distant owners and mangers can lead to “lower levels of local corporate giving, civic engagement, employment, and investment, often setting in motion further regional decline.”

[excerpt: Chapter 9]

Democratically-elected board members at Littleton Food Co-op (2018, Littleton, NH)

Democratically-elected board members at Littleton Food Co-op (2018, Littleton, NH)

Jon Steinman